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Cardinals’ Mauro not focused on position battle with Nkemdiche

Arizona Cardinals' Josh Mauro (97) runs defensive linemen drills during an NFL football training camp Saturday, July 29, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — With so few starting spots up for grabs at this year’s Cardinals training camp, one of the main storylines has been the maturation of defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, the team’s 2016 first round pick, who all but took a redshirt season last year while residing in coach Bruce Arians’ doghouse.

While Nkemdiche is turning heads this year, the guy ahead of him on the depth chart is keeping his head down and quietly going about his business. Despite starting 13 games last season, and four the season before that, Josh Mauro is still flying under the radar.

“He’s not flying under my radar,” coach Bruce Arians said. “He might be under the national radar or all the people who say they don’t have a defensive line, but Josh has been as good a player as we’ve had for three years on the defensive line; as consistent. When he’s in the game, I don’t look his way because his job is getting done.”

Mauro’s job was simple when the Stanford grad arrived in Week 10 of the 2014 season, after his release from the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“When they brought me in, [defensive line] coach [Brentson] Buckner told me I had one job to do and it was in nickel defense,” Mauro said. “All I did was master what he wanted me to do, but that spring I started mastering more packages.”

“You can’t try to be a master of everything. I know what my strengths are and I know what my weaknesses are. I try to put myself in the best position based on where they need me in the defense and I know how to attack the offense in different ways to be successful, not only for myself but for the unit.”

What Mauro does best is defend the run, particularly on the edge.

“He’s a great run defender and tenacious player,” Arians said.

Mauro had 32 tackles last season. He was due to become a restricted free agent last spring, but the Cardinals re-signed him to a two-year deal with a 2017 base salary of $750,000 and a 2018 base salary of $1.3 million, with roster bonuses of $1.25 million and $1.5 million, respectively, per overthecap.com.

As he eyes his fourth professional season, he is working on those aforementioned weaknesses.

“I need to get better at pass rush and better at some of the movements but I’m starting to develop those this camp,” he said. “I need to get better inside against the run, but I’m going to get to the ball. I’m not going to stop. I’m going to hunt for that ball carrier and I’m going to smack him.”

Mauro knows that he will be called upon to help replace the production that Calais Campbell provided before he departed in free agency last spring.

“We were talking about the camp when Darnell Dockett got hurt here [2014], my rookie season, and everyone said ‘what are they going to do up front? What are they going to do now on defense?'” Mauro said. “I think we finished top-8 in points as a defense that year. They brought in Tommy Kelly, who was a veteran, and they didn’t miss a beat.

“Darnell Dockett is probably going to be in the Ring of Honor up here and Calais Campbell probably will be, too, but we keep moving. No single player has taken over the game of football by himself. It’s about a unit, especially on defense with the way we play, gap-sound. If we do the job up front, the plays will come to us. We’re not looking to reproduce what Calais did with one person. It’s going to be a collective effort.”

Mauro hopes he will continue to be a part of that effort. In the Cardinals’ perfect world, Nkemdiche will force his way into the starting lineup at some point, but with the line rotation the Cardinals use, Mauro knows he will get his reps.

“I don’t care if I’m running out of the helmet and getting my name introduced,” he said. “We need to do well as a unit and when you have a unit that does that collectively you can do great things.

“I don’t look at it as a me-vs.-Robert competition for a spot that’s a void after Calais left. I embrace Robert getting better and all of us up front. I want Robert to be at his absolute best and I want to be at my absolute best. I know what I have to offer and I know what I can put on film every day. I just have to be consistent with it, but seeing Robert come along and maturing mentally, it’s a big bright spot for us, not something I’m looking over my shoulder at.”

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